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Tuesday
Sep082009

Paris City Bus Drivers Get Friendly

Today after lunch I hopped onto the Bus 83 at the Place d'Italie. I always try and make an effort to say bonjour to the driver when I enter at the front of the bus (on the longer buses you can enter through the rear doors), but today the driver beat me to it, giving a boisterous "bonjour, bonjour" to each person as we validated our passes. I noticed it, but didn't think too much about it. After all, it was a gorgeous, sunny day, why not be in a good mood?


The driver of Bus 83 waving goodbye to the passengers who just disembarked.

But as the bus made its way along the Avenue des Gobelins, the driver starts talking cheerfully to the crowded bus:

(my rough translation into Franglais)

"The next stop is 'Banquier', but don't bother going to the bank, c'est la crise."

"On your left is the Manufacture des Gobelins, where they still make tapestries."

A woman who got on with me says to the man next to her, "He's giving commentary?" "Ah, oui!" he responds with a smile.

Each time we stop to let more passengers on, he gives each one the same friendly hello. A few give him a suspicious eye, then can't help but notice that all of the passengers are smiling. Candid camera?

We pass the Hotel Lutetia ("that's where the Germans stayed when they occupied Paris in WWII") and the Bon Marché ("it used to be 'bon marché' to shop there, but today it has nothing to do with that"). I'm leaving out a lot of the fun facts he gave us, but as a guide I must say that he certainly knew his history. As we approach Solferino, he asks if anyone needs to stop before Pont de la Concorde. No one says yes, so he turns the bus right and announces that we're taking a deviation. An elderly woman who has just boarded asks why.

"Un petit parenthèse touristique!" he responds. "You'll see here on the Rue Solferino, that on your right there are buildings, and on the left there are more buildings. Mais oui, c'est Paris; c'est normal."

As we turn onto the Quai he points out the National Assembly and the Pont Alexandre III, which is his favorite bridge but "could use a bit of a clean-up." To this one of the passengers replies, "But they just cleaned it two years ago, look how shiny the golden statues are!" They banter back and forth a bit, then the driver leans out his window to chastise a driver who is trying to perform some illegal maneuvers.

As he drops off passengers, they exit at the rear of the bus (amazing how well-behaved we all are now) and wave to him as they pass by the driver's door. He waves back. Everyone's happy.

When I see a Parisian friend of mine later in the day, I recount my ride, musing that maybe someone hijacked the bus, since I've never seen a city bus driver give sightseeing commentary. He tells me how the same thing happened to him on bus 38 the week before, and that the driver actually quizzed the passengers on different historic sites they passed, teasing the ones who got the wrong answers or cheated by asking others for the answers. "I think the drivers get depressed because no one ever talks to them," he says. "Maybe they're being encouraged to interact with the public more now."

The thing I like most about this is that, as most longtime Parisians know, it's easy to forget what a beautiful city this is and how lucky we are to be able to have the views we do as part of our daily commute around town. I hope they keep it up!

Have any of you encountered a particularly friendly city bus driver in Paris?

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Reader Comments (6)

what a delightful bus ride! i hope to come across one of those myself sometime soon. my friendliest bus driver experience was one day when i was wearing my obnoxious orange sunglasses (à la austin powers) and the bus driver wanted to try them on. i got a photo.
September 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkylie
Not an over friendly but very helpful, whilst we were trying to get to Gare du Nord, back in April.. !

I have just been back to Paris for two weeks.....a fantastic place :-)
September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
Most of my Parisian bus experience has been on the Noctilien - most people aren't exactly chipper at 4 am. But I really appreciated it the time the bus driver told the guy who was blaring music from his phone to please put on his headphones, telling him something like "if you want to listen, that's fine, but the rest of us shouldn't have to."
September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCamille
I will be in Paris for all of October. Hope I ride some of the buses with friendly drivers. I will be sure to say Bonjour if I board from the front.
September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCollagemaven
i loved this story! it reminded me of a subway conductor in NYC who during an express rush hour train from the Upper East Side to Wall Street mentioned all the tourist sites near each stop. he had the most beautiful speaking voice (I never saw him.) and when the doors opened, he would say, "Step lively!"

i rode that train every day for about 4 years but never heard him again. Now there is an automated voice - that is only turned off when there is something unusual happening.

there is something special about experiencing a small-town feeling in a big city. i hope i run into this bus driver soon!
September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElisabeth
I met this bus driver two years ago, on the 27! He was making jokes with the names of the stations: "Mesdames messieurs, nous allons bientôt dépasser les Alpes (bus station's name, on the Bd Vincent Auriol) pour arriver en Italie (place d'Italie), puis nous irons saluer nos amis les gobelins (Gobelins)". I never saw him gain...
September 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmmanuel
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